Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo received an MRI that showed back inflammation. After batting practice on Sunday, Rizzo’s back tightened up, leading to the MRI. It’s a problem that has nagged Rizzo throughout his illustrious career.
“It’s all relative,” Rizzo said on Zoom. “Frustrating, just because how physically in shape like I felt like I was coming in. Just can’t control the flare-ups.”
Rizzo compared this latest setback to a similar injury that flared up in 2018, when he missed multiple games due to a back injury early in the season. At that moment, he says, he was more willing to miss time in the beginning of the season than if the injury occurred during the home stretch. In that situation, Rizzo says, he would have played.
But with a season that will feel like the homestretch of a normal season, the question of whether or not to play becomes a little more difficult to answer. Whether or not Rizzo starts the season on the IL is yet to be clear, but, he says, he is already starting to feel better.
“I mean it felt better today, waking up, than it did yesterday,” he said. He added that, “Once these spasms break it’s kind of like, it goes from severe pain to absolutely nothing. I’m past the severe pain part. I’m not at the nothing stage, but I’m somewhere on the good side.”
First-year manager David Ross expressed optimism about Rizzo’s recovery time, as it is an injury Ross has seen Rizzo battle before.
“I think the good news is he understands where he’s at with this back thing he’s got going on and dealing with it in the past,” Ross said. “He doesn’t seem worried. I think the main thing is we’re progressing in the right direction and he still has a positive outlook so that makes me have a positive outlook.”
While Rizzo has been the first baseman for this era of Cubs baseball, the team has been forced to play without him and will play either Kris Bryant or Victor Caratini to fill the role if Rizzo is to miss time to start the season. Ross also said that those are the only two players they’d seriously consider filling that spot.
Playing Caratini at first allows Bryant to stay at third base or play in the outfield, and also keeps Willson Contreras, who has had a strong summer camp, behind the plate and in the lineup. In 279 plate appearances last season, Caratini hit .266/.348/.447. He provides better framing as a catcher than Contreras, but his 11 home runs last year are a step down from the 24 hit by Contreras. Keeping Contreras’s bat in the lineup is the ideal path of direction, and Caratini at first allows for that, while not forcing Contreras in the outfield or to third. It also keeps Bryant, who is also an effective outfielder, at third, where he has a better fielding percentage (.947) than, say, David Bote (.915).
For Rizzo, getting back to the lineup is his highest priority.
“It’s part of the gig though. My job is to play no matter what. So that’s what I love to do.”